Citizens weigh in on possible consolidation - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Citizens weigh in on possible consolidation

May 8, 2006

Albany-- The long process of combining Albany and Dougherty County governments and services entered a new phase Monday night. People got a chance to give their input on consolidation as leaders put together a proposed charter.

This was the first of four public hearings to discuss the charter. Some people brought positive opinions about the consolidation. Others just don't see the point and say it will cause major problems for Albany's majority.

The possible consolidation would combine everything from public works to law enforcement, a combination that could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

"One of the things that the charter does, it says generally employees will keep their jobs so that's one of the ways in which you'll save money as people retire," says John O'Looney of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

When it comes to numbers, it sounds good to many but when it comes to color, others aren't crazy about the charter.

"We're not in support of this and we're not going to let it fly," says charter opponent Ben Johnson. The reason? Even though Dougherty County is majority black, some black leaders worry consolidation would limit the black vote and the presence of blacks in government.

"Too many of us fought too hard to get the opportunity to vote and for this group to come up with a plan by which we can eliminate certain commissioners by virtue of their race and the color of their skin, tell this dog we won't hunt," says Johnson.

Under the charter, there would be a commission-manager form of government with 8 commissioners and a CEO. It would also break the area up into 8 districts. Attorney Maurice King says blacks would get lost in the shuffle.

"I think that the charter almost at every turn is how to disenfranchise black people," says King. King says he wants his objection noted by the commission and will also take his concerns to the U.S. Justice Department. NAACP President William Wright also objects to the charter.

"We object because first of all we're not doing good with the existing government that we have. Certainly if we can't trust you with the existing one, what would you do if we allow you to consolidate?," asked Wright at the hearing.

Other questions also still remain for the black religious community. Pastor Lorenzo Heard says religious leaders in other cities now regret consolidation. "Some of the pastors in Augusta, Georgia, some of their comments to the pastors here is that is the greatest mistake they ever made," says Heard.

"My position is still on hold whether I'll agree to the charter being pro or con based on the fact I haven't been given all the data yet," says Commissioner Tommie Postell.

The consolidation and unification possibilities have some people divided as talks continue for a single county-wide government.

The charter commission will take these comments into consideration as well as comments from future public hearings. The next hearing is Thursday at 7:00 P.M at Darton College.

More information on the charter that would create a new government that would function as both a city and a county.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government came up with the charter plan. They say it will increase efficiency, improve of the quality of life and bring in more state or federal grants. It would also save money in the long run but the transition may cost more money intially.

"In the very best case scenario, there would be a savings of 3 million dollars and in the very worst case scenario, there would have been a cost of about 1.3 million dollars," says John O'Looney.

All full-time county and city employees would become employees under the unified government. Within three years, salaries would be equalized. A transition team of city and county officials will assist with the transition.

The new charter must be approved by both commissions, state lawmakers, the Justice Department and then voters.

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